New ‘Google Maps for Graves’ Project to Snap Millions of Headstones for Public Database

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Single headstone in graveyard during autumn

A new ‘Google Maps for Graves’ project will see Atlantic Geomatics surveying company pay a visit to the Church of England’s 19,000 graveyards to make every final resting place freely available to find online.

They won’t be fleeting visits either, as every single headstone, grave, memorial, pathway, wall and more will be mapped and photographed – a number of images that will run into the hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions.

        • Surveyors have already begun the huge task of capturing millions of memorials 
        • The database is expected to take seven years to complete 
        • Detailed information will be available to amateur genealogists 
        • The surveyors will begin with cemeteries across Cumbria 
        • Final resting place of William Wordsworth among the first to be scanned 
        • Data for every Anglican burial ground in the country will be available

The project hopes to help families and genealogists locate the final resting place of their distant relatives by providing a database that will be free to search. 

Atlantic Geomatic have already started their colossal cemetery marathon with state-of-the-art laser scanners and backpacks in tow to put together what they refer to as a ‘Burial Ground Management System‘.

Each memorial image will be hosted in an online database called “Google Maps for Graves”.

Searchers will be able to visit the database and tap in the name of the family member to reveal the precise grave and cemetery they have been laid to rest in, as well as view the epitaph or fine craft etching that is visible on the memorial of their relative.

>> Learn more about Fine Craft Etching for Memorials.

Basic information is expected to be totally free once the website is published online next year, but if online searchers would like to learn more, some database upgrade options for a monthly fee will likely be available offering access to detailed burial records held by the church.

Silhouette of woman researching online

Project Funded by Several Funds, Charities & Businesses

The ‘Google Maps for Graves’ project is being generously funded by the National Lottery Hedge Fund, Historic EnglandCaring for God’s Acre, and genealogy websites Family Search and My Heritage.

The project may have raised a few eyebrows at first, but given some time to think the idea through, parish vicars up and down the country are quickly warming to the concept. Many of those who are operating within the parishes claim they are being overwhelmed with requests from people all over the world attempting to track down their British ancestors or long-lost friends.

With enough funding now secured to roll this project out across the country, Atlantic Geomatics spared no extra time as they quickly got to work with first snapping the Church of England cemeteries located across the county of Cumbria – the home county of the surveyors.

The headstones at the ancient church of St Bega, located on the beautiful Bassenthwaite Lake in Cumbria, were the very first to be scanned by the surveyors.

Also among the first was St Oswald’s Church in Grasmere, famed for being the burial site of English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who was laid to rest at this cemetery following his passing over 170 years ago in 1850.

Each laser scanner used through the project costs around £100,000 and come equipped with a total of five cameras, two laser scanners and a GPS tracker.

William Wordsworth newspaper snippet 1850 death

Surveyors Will Capture Every Grave, Memorial, Pathway, Wall & More

The team will capture not just every headstone within the 19,000 plus cemeteries, but also every memorial, pathway, building, wall, and tree, meaning up to 50 million measurements from each individual graveyard are expected to make it onto the database.

That’s right – up to 50 million measurements will be recorded from each graveyard.

Tim Viney, owner at Atlantic Geomatics, says the company has received permission from each of the Church of England parishes to capture their cemetery with the scanners, adding that his team are already used to being asked a wide range of different questions whenever they make their way around a venue.

It will take a few hours on average to scan and record an entire burial site, with the teams working their way through several cemeteries in one day.

Fortunately, the teams of scanners shouldn’t be worrying any parishioners as each church has been alerted to the fact people will be roaming around at some point with their futuristic-looking high-tech gear to photograph the memorials and surrounding environment of their site.

>> View our range of memorials.

Noticeable Increase in Ancestry Requests from the Public

Many parish vicars have said that ancestry requests have always been popular, and though most say they do try to respond to them all, they also highlighted the fact that there appears to be no end and the growing increase in enquiries is very noticeable.

Experts say there has been a huge increase in the volume of searchable historical records available online recently, which has provided a boost to people’s interest in family history, along with popular TV programmes such as BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’.

Up and down the country, churches understand how new technology and the modern digital world can help relieve much of that workload.

Once the laborious task of collating all the data and making it all live and available online is complete, they expect the database to make a huge positive difference to anyone looking to research their family history in Britain, and it should provide a much-appreciated ease on the administrative burden parishes have faced when it comes to these ancestry requests.

Family tree

Before long, it will be possible for a visitor to enter any Anglican cemetery and quickly view in real time the location of burial plots.

For anyone who is conducting their research from a distance, be it elsewhere in the UK or from any other country in the world, the digital records that will be kept on the database will provide them with detailed information directly from churchyards in an instant – all from a mobile phone, tablet or computer.

Cemetery Data Expected to Take Seven Years to Collect

The first digitising of graves is well underway, but it will still take an estimated seven years before the database will be complete following visits to all 19,000 cemeteries.

Plans are also in place to help families find ancestors who are buried in unmarked graves.

Informative data relating to rare flowers and shrubs that grow in Anglican churchyards will also be added to the database at some point.

As we can see, “Google Maps for Graves” will be quite the hub of information!

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